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I am studying Schubert Sonata in a-minor D784. I have a problem with the tempo in the 2nd movement.

In my scores (Wiener Urtext, thus, I suppose this is not a typo) the 2nd movement is written in Alla Breve with tempo marking Andante. To my feeling the Andante is only possible with respect to the quarter note and not with respect to the half note -- which it should be since the piece is in Alla Breve.

Since Schubert is quite "exact" with his tempo markings (e.g. first movement of the sonata is clearly in 4/4, although one could easily think it should be in 2/2, or Schubert Op. 90, D. 899, Gb major with the double-alla-breve tempo), I am not fully convinced that the Andante feeling is with respect to the quarter note in this movement.

Does anybody have any ideas about this?

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  • I understand and share the sense of dilemma. All of the recordings I consulted played it as a quarter-note andante -- at the fastest. Some were even slower. But thus far I haven't found any specific justification.
    – Aaron
    Nov 20 '20 at 4:18
  • I guess the problem derives from identifying Andante with some 90 beats per (whichever) note instead of a target character for the movement with considerable leeway in every direction. Considering tempo specifications as left hand side of a conversion table for BPM will simply not work for all cases.
    – guidot
    Nov 20 '20 at 15:28
  • @guidot Andante means "walking". I nowhere identified it with 90bpm.
    – tommsch
    Nov 20 '20 at 18:44
  • Can you produce a convincing interpretation at (for example) half note =90? If not, you've answered your own question.
    – PiedPiper
    Nov 20 '20 at 20:53
  • @PiedPiper That's exactly the question: OP can't produce a convincing andante interpretation at that speed and is wondering about the seeming contradiction between Schubert's markings, which are otherwise very specific, and the actual effective musical interpretation.
    – Aaron
    Nov 20 '20 at 23:56
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Schubert has a number of other very slow Andantes. The first piano trio has an Andante un poco mosso in 6/8 which is usually played around 44 dotted quarters per minute or slower. The second trio has an Andante con moto in 2/4 which is usually played around 50 quarter notes per minute at the fastest.

Andante as "walking" (which is spurious anyway) refers to a step every half-beat, or a left foot every beat.

I would play D784 at around 56 half notes per minute, thinking of the half note as the pulse. This is faster than usual, but I think Schubert slow movements are generally played too slow. (There is an early music movement influence here; one argument for a faster tempo is that the fortepianos of Schubert's day (even the London action rather than Vienna action ones) articulate faster and sustain notes for less time than a modern piano.)

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  • Can you give sources for the "'walking' is spurious" and "step every half-beat" comments? These contradict what I've previously understood to be common knowledge, so I'd like to read further.
    – Aaron
    Nov 21 '20 at 5:37
  • "Walking is spurious": music.stackexchange.com/questions/53339/… Nov 21 '20 at 6:14
  • Relying on an SE post that is itself undocumented is a dubious way to question a long-established norm. According to the Oxford Companion to Music, which is widely considered authoritative, Andante has had an accepted musical meaning of "between adagio and allegro" since the late 1700s. (It also attributes the term to Italian, and translates as "walking".) This is otherwise a +1 post, but IMO the sentence about the meaning and interpretation of "andante" should be removed unless you can more solidly back it up.
    – Aaron
    Nov 21 '20 at 6:27
  • "Step every half-beat": That's what I learned. Certainly there are a lot of andantes where this is the only sensible interpretation - for example the Schubert trios I mentioned or second movement of Mozart K283 or K333 would be unplayable at walking quarters (unless you walked really slowly). Or Brahms Op. 118 No. 6 - the indication of 'andante, largo e mesto' makes no sense unless you have the main beat every 2 steps. Nov 21 '20 at 6:30
  • @Aaron - yes andante is "between adagio and allegro" and "at a walking tempo", but the attribution to Italian is not backed up by any actual usage in Italian outside of music - every source I've seen discussing this points out there are essentially zero (historical or current) non-musical uses of the word 'andante' in Italian. Nov 21 '20 at 6:36
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The consensus among various recorded versions I've just researched is that it's quarter note Andante.

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